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Cold, warm, cold again: Bristol Bay sees persistent temperature swings this winter

Dillingham on a cloudy day. January, 2024.
Christina McDermott
Dillingham on a cloudy day. January, 2024.

By the end of last month, Bristol Bay had recorded its coldest December in a decade. But so far in January, temperatures in parts of the region have broken forty degrees multiple times and the region has experienced some snow loss. Climate specialist Rick Thoman from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said temperature swings in Alaska aren't necessarily unusual.

“Having these big shifts like this from well below normal to well above normal, that doesn’t happen every winter but is not actually uncommon for Alaska, for the Bristol Bay region,” Thoman said.

He said swings happen in the winter because of changes to the storm track – that’s the path that storms or other weather patterns follow.

“When the storm track is to the east of the Bristol Bay area, say into the Gulf of Alaska, with the counterclockwise circulation around low-pressure systems in the northern hemisphere, that means the Bristol Bay region is predominantly in that northerly wind side,” he said.

When storms are tracking through the central Bering Sea, Thoman said the region gets warm air from the North Pacific.

He said that high-latitude places like Alaska are more prone to getting stuck in weather patterns. But it's a little unusual to see repeated switches from warm to cold weather patterns, with little variable weather days in between.

Temperatures have dropped again in Bristol Bay. It’s unclear how long the chilly days will last this time.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.